All posts for the month August, 2015

Reminds me of the old book “MBO Can Work!” Um, not really, but that is out of scope for today.

Tech Push is a business practice where technological innovation is pushed from the lab into the market. If you ask the question “can Tech Push work?” to an assortment of people working in new product introduction, you will get a variety of answers. A smaller segment will extol the virtues of one or another projects that they sent to market, while others will vigorously swear up and down that the lab has never developed anything that was actually necessary. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.

The opposite side of Tech Push is Market Pull, when the market demands a change and tries to pry it out of the lab. Often, the laws of physics come into play – as far as I know, no one has defeated them and lived. If the state of the art in technology hasn’t progressed to what the market wants, the market is stuck waiting for technology to catch up. It’s the proverbial better mousetrap problem.

The great middle requires redefining Tech Push into two different tacks: Blind Tech Push and Informed Tech Push. Blind Tech Push is the classic version. Think of the Apple Newton. An answer to a question no one asked. AT THE TIME. In 1993, no one had any idea what to do with the thing. In 2003, when RIM released the first BlackBerry device, email had taken over as a primary communication means and the role of a personal multi-mode communication device was much more obvious. In fact, the history of devices of all types is littered with things that were released too early into the market and for that reason alone, failed. These Blind Tech Pushes are the ones people think of when they say that they view Tech Push as a failure.

The second aspect of Tech Push is Informed Tech Push. My favorite quote to illustrate this point is from Henry Ford – “if I’d asked the people what they wanted, they’d have asked for a faster horse.” In this case, the market was pulling for a faster horse, and Ford knew that that wasn’t going to happen. But he could replace the horse with something faster, more fuel efficient, and lower maintenance. The Model T (in fact, all of Ford’s work and before his, Karl Benz’) was dependent on an understanding of the market demands and production of new technology to meet them. Hr Benz, however, was actually nearly a victim of Blind Tech Push – without his wife Bertha’s intervention, the Benz Patent Motorwagen would have been a footnote of history. Bertha Benz’ willingness to reach out to the market and tap a vein of desire (go off to visit family for a quick, safe jaunt!) allowed Benz to reach the market successfully and paved the way for the rest of the auto industry.

More recent examples of Informed Tech Push include the Nespresso coffee machine (you didn’t see that coming) and the FitBit, both of which carved markets seemingly out of the air. I’m ignoring the iPod here, because the market for mobile music players already existed, and the iPod was evolutionary in meeting market demand for smaller, faster, cheaper. In the case of Nespresso, the concept of single cup brewing was not new. Neither was hermetic packaging of foods. What was missing was the market for a $4 cup of high quality coffee. Up until good coffee became desirable in the US, it was virtually impossible to move the rather expensive single cup brewers that existed. Packaging issues with small volumes of ground coffee were too expensive to overcome, and the quality of coffee brewed in existing systems was actually dismal. However, by watching the market closely and following the price points of in-cafe coffee purchases, Nestle was able to introduce the (for the market) completely novel concept of long-term storable high-quality coffee in capsules combined with a brewing mechanism that looked like art and produced a very high quality cup of coffee, all at the newly accessible price point. If this sounds like market timing, it is. Informed Tech Push is all about market timing.

In the case of FitBit, micro accelerometer technology was available and recently deployed by Nintendo in the Wii. America had gotten the hang being measured with games like DanceDanceRevolution (in gym class, no less) and GuitarHero. The staff at FitBit saw the opportunity to move this technology into the world of personal health. Rather than languishing in the fitness world where only the hardcore participated, they looked to a chronically underserved market – people sitting on their butts. Of which there are significantly more. By reading the market and understanding the goals of the larger personal health target audience, they were able to do what Nike and Garmin had failed at – capture the attention of the non-gym rat crowd.

In all cases, a careful dance with the left foot of the lab and the right foot of marketing allowed new technology to carve out a solid market and succeed.

When you think about Tech Push and Market Pull, remember that they rarely work independently. They work best when the tech is ready before the market is, but never without a clear understanding of what the market actually needs and wants.

© 2015

I’ve been unable to track down the origin of the phrase “a job so simple a monkey can do it”, so I’ll make do here with a few other monkey aphorisms. All to set up for a useful post, I promise.

Some years (or eons) ago, it was posited that if you gave a million monkeys each a typewriter, eventually one would hack out some Shakespeare. Actually, it’s called the infinite monkey theorem, and it says (per Wikipedia) that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In truth, the monkeys did not type anything useful at all, and destroyed the typewriters in the process.

A monkey wrench is a wrench that is make-do, can be arranged to work in a given situation. It turns out to have a nautical origin in name, and a horsedrawn carriage origin in function. It is actually not a pipe wrench, being that the jaws are perpendicular to the handle instead of angled as in a pipe wrench. They are also often flat instead of toothed. But they can be monkeyed around with until they work, for sure.

Throwing the monkey wrench into something is another name for sabotage.’s monkey advertisements reinforced the idea the monkeys are not anyone’s choice of top recruits for jobs that might provide a decent paycheck.

Monkeys are a metaphor for small, unreliable operations and operators that can go wrongly, often with spectacularly bad (ok, hilarious) results.

Let’s head back to the monkeys on the job.

During work on a large, game-changing software installation that I recently participated it, a healthy debate set up between some of the stakeholders, one group of which wanted a process that “a monkey could operate”, and one group who wanted an expert process. Middle ground was, as usual, scarce. The process in question was a stage and gate process and one of the complexities was the processing of gates – should it be automated or should it require intervention from humans skilled in the art?

This posed two rather fundamental process governance questions – how complex should the process be, and how much knowledge should be required to operate it?

The governance issue was the subject of much debate within the chartering organization, and both sides made compelling arguments. The monkey side wanted a process that could not be perverted for individual gain and that would not place additional burden on the already thin staff. The expert side wanted to know that the right decisions were being made regardless of a number, that no opportunities were being missed, and that common sense would always prevail. Both agreed that the governance of the process was critical to its success and turned back to the team for an answer.

Out of this challenge, my team, the team in charge of implementation, threw up our hands in frustration and exclaimed “if the process is so simple that it only requires monkeys to operate, then why do we need (to pay) senior managers?” We christened this “the monkey rule”.

We created a paradox in the process: the only people who could specify a monkey-enabled process were the senior managers, who then would become irrelevant in doing so. At the same time, the managers demanding as expert process were committing to the work required, because it could not be delegated to monkeys by virtue of its expert content.

Both arguments hold water – some processes are suitable for “monkey-enabling” and others will never make it out of the C-suite. The middle ground is where application of the monkey rule is required. For example, simple invoice checking for completeness is a relatively straightforward process – are all of the pieces of information there? Ok, move it on to the next step. Choosing a vendor is much more complex and not all of the useful information has a numeric value or can be converted to one. How do you rate the sole proprietor’s chances of a heart attack in the next ten months? Well, it probably starts with a phone call and might proceed to a face-to-face meeting over lunch. Things that are often handled by managers of some level with some amount of gut expertise. An expert, if you will.

In the end, the team and the chartering organization went the route of the expert process requiring the senior managers to actively participate. It’s mostly working, and it’s generating accountability that was previously unheard of in the organization. It’s also revealing some opportunities for improvement and a non-trivial number of missing experts.

Most importantly, the monkey rule served its purpose – to differentiate between the truly monkey-level tasks and those that do require a well-funded paycheck. Our managers are still being paid.

Where are you going to deploy the monkey rule?

© 2015